News / Africa

Egyptian Protesters Denounce Military, Security Forces After Soccer Disaster

Fans from Al Ahly and Al Zamalek soccer teams chant slogans against the violence that occurred during a soccer match involving Al Ahly in Port Said, February 2, 2012
Fans from Al Ahly and Al Zamalek soccer teams chant slogans against the violence that occurred during a soccer match involving Al Ahly in Port Said, February 2, 2012

Thousands of Egyptians in Cairo have protested to denounce the country's military rulers and security forces for failing to prevent a soccer riot that killed 74 people and injured hundreds more in the northern city of Port Said.

Some protesters gathered Thursday in central Cairo's Tahrir Square while others marched to the nearby Interior Ministry, where riot police fired tear gas to keep them away.  A crowd also chanted slogans against the ruling military at a Cairo train station where survivors of Wednesday's riot were returning home, some of them injured.

Egypt's military-appointed Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzuri said the government fired the board of Egypt's soccer federation and suspended Port Said's governor and security chiefs in response to the disaster, one of the deadliest in the history of the sport.  He announced the actions at an emergency parliament session.

The head of Egypt's military council, Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi, declared three days of national mourning and vowed to find the culprits. Police have arrested 47 suspects.

"God willing, if there is any person planning to destabilize Egypt, he will fail to achieve his goal," said Tantawi. "Everyone involved in this incident will be handed a fair sentence."

Some lawmakers blamed the riot on loyalists of former President Hosni Mubarak, ousted by a popular uprising one year ago, while others demanded the firing of Egypt's interior minister. The lawmakers also voted to conduct an investigation. Egypt has experienced a series of deadly incidents linked to poor security in the past year, leaving many Egyptians worried about instability.

Egypt's main stock index fell more than two percent on Thursday.

The head of world soccer's governing body FIFA sent a letter to Egypt's soccer federation demanding a full explanation of the disaster and calling it a "black day for football."  Sepp Blatter also said football is a force for good and authorities must not allow it to be abused "by those who mean evil."  Egypt's soccer league has been suspended indefinitely.

The Port Said riot erupted at the end of a match in which home team Al-Masry scored an upset 3-1 victory over Cairo's visiting Al-Ahly club.  As most police looked on, thousands stormed the pitch and panicked fans rushed for the exits but were crushed against locked gates.

VOA correspondent Elizabeth Arrott said the atmosphere in Port Said was tense Thursday, with troops deployed to prevent further battles between rival fans. She said some protesters in the city blamed the disaster on negligence by the security forces, while others called for retaliation against the fans who instigated the violence.

"It was a match, we were playing a game," said a football fan who was caught in violence in Port Said. "I though Egypt was better than this but we got beaten and injured. Many people died. The government provided army cars for us. We are now here."

"We are calling on all in the government to investigate and to help, so that the 74 people who died can have some justice," said another fan.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.

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